A stuck court trial
The trial against the convicted for Alejandro Martínez's kidnapping has been on hold for two years. It started to get on track right after the fall of grace of ex magistrate Aponte Aponte. Coincidence?
With the neck chained, handcuffed, locked in a lame room with no windows and no access to bathrooms. That is the scenery young Alejandro Martínez had to see for 35 days. More than a month locked in such conditions. Not even animals are that unlucky.
Late on night April 14, 2010; Martínez and his wife were ambushed at the parking lot of the residence they lived in Valencia. There was no misunderstanding whatsoever; kidnappers knew all about him: his name's father, who their uncles were, her current six-month pregnancy.
She was freed; but to release him, they asked for USD 2 million. The Martínez are partners with the Blohm group, on the vehicle production business. By then, Alejandro was in charge of Motores Cabriales: a major car dealer in central Carabobo state. His father, Humberto, and his uncle Carlos also led other equally big car dealers in the region. And the oldest of his uncles, Amado, has been for more than 30 years the family's agent on the partnership with the Blohm group. This is one thing, but having USD 2 million in cash is another story.
Alejandro was released as a consequence of the continued police chase. A commission from the Scientific, Criminal and Forensic Investigation Agency (Cicpc) established in Caracas took charge of the case. After the capture of the main suspect and presumed leader of the operation; the criminal gang split up and the ones in charge of keeping an eye on the hostage set him free so as to avoid bigger evils. On May 19, police officers captured Leonardo Del Moral García, who acted as sales manager with corporation Dieselval, also a party to the Martínez-Blohm group.
The Attorney General Office accused him of complicity in the crime of kidnapping and criminal conspiracy. Arrest warrants against Rubén Gerardo Castillo Castillo and Erick Yuye Rojas were also issued. Castillo is identified in the case file as "Flash" and whose task was to make contact with the family and Yuye through phone calls. He was also identified as one of the wardens who paid -by means of two personal checks- the property -currently under construction- where they had Alejandro locked in.
For some impenetrable mysteries of the Venezuelan justice, this case has ended up linked to the destiny of the nowadays fugitive Eladio Aponte Aponte.
On June 12, 2011, daily newspaper El Universal released in this same section the chronicles of such kidnapping, including denunciations from the victims' lawyers: they had been waiting the trial to get started for a year. The Court of Criminal Cassation, Supreme Tribunal of Justice, had approved -in November 2010- the defense's request to carry out the lawsuit in the city of Barquisimeto instead of a court in Valencia. Nonetheless, Del Moral continued arrested in a special area of the prison in Tocuyito where he received -they uphold- preferential treatment from the prison director, identified as a close friend of the defendant and promoted as a witness in his favor.
Magistrate Eladio Aponte Aponte did approve the request of settlement of the trial and ordered that the dossier was taken to the circuit court in Lara state. The reasoning of his decision focused on one single argument: press releases on the kidnapping involving Del Moral as a defendant "threaten the impartiality of the judges and court jurors." As a result, in order to maintain the objectivity, the proceeding should be moved out to a place where public opinion was less influential. Or something like that.
The reasoning of Humberto Martínez -and his lawyers'- goes in a different direction: the moving out to Lara was "convenient" for the convicted. Actually, during the process, they challenged three judges for committing "irregular acts."
Yes, but no
Since the trial was taken to Lara state, the criminal proceedings are in tune with the convicted best interests instead of the truth or justice. Leonardo Gabriel Del Moral García has indeed determined the pace of the process -the criminal procedure law has been put aside- as the convicted appears in court only when it suits him and chooses not to appear when detrimental events are in the zone."
To date, over 20 hearings had been summoned in almost two years. Nevertheless, they would not go beyond the trial phase. Nor had the "discovery" hearing been held, in which Alejandro Martínez and his wife would declare as victims, or a key figure: Juan Carlos "Fat" Castillo would appear in court.
Castillo was one of the kidnapers in charge of watching Alejandro during his captivity. He was detained and declared to the Cicpc how he joined the criminal gang and confirmed the participation of his cousin Rubén Gerardo Castillo (Flash), Erick Yuye and Leonardo Del Moral, to whom he identified as "el papeado" (the "Muscly"). He also confirmed that the operation was abandoned at the time in which "el papeado," the leader, was captured by the police authorities: the same day of Del Moral's detention. And he offered to testify in court in exchange for benefits in his own trial.
In essence, in taking over the case, the Court of Criminal Cassation was asked to prevent delay strategies and order the transfer of Del Moral to Barquisimeto to avoid transportation problems. However, the Court of Criminal Cassation -where Aponte Aponte was a party- gave an elusive response on February 28. "It admitted that there were delays, but did not order to correct the vices," explains Jesús Loreto, a lawyer of the victims.
The scenery changed in March. And even though Loreto would love to say that everything was thanks to his work team's effort and the appropriate administration of justice, he admits there was something else involved as well. On March 20, the National Assembly dismissed magistrate Aponte Aponte for his presumed links with drug trafficker Walid Makled. That day, two hearings on Martínez's case were held: in the morning, co-defendant Juan Carlos Castillo finally gave his testimony. And in the afternoon, the preliminary hearing got started in two sessions and finished in the afternoon of March 21.
"After two years of wait, everything coincided with Aponte Aponte's release," points out Humberto Martínez: "We are certain that the case was taken to Lara because Aponte Aponte had control over the court circuit there. There are still figures with whom he can count on there. But, of course, those things are quite difficult to prove and one has to stick to the evidence."
Criminal lawyers say that anything that "smells" like Aponte Aponte around this time "stinks." The destiny of these cases that somehow depended on his "performances" and decisions has changed. Or it might change. This case in particular remains to be seen.
Translated by Adrián Valera Villani
José Vicente Rangel clearly said: "We are not conducting negotiations threatened with a gun in the head." He warned behind closed doors in the midst of the social upheaval occurred during the oil strike in 2002 and 2003. Dissenting Timoteo Zambrano answered back that no other option was available: "The thing is that otherwise, you do not negotiate."